"Even on normal difficulty, on countless occasions I've had a race all but wrapped up, taking care to play it safe as the game allows in the home stretch, only to land a jump on a barricade and get tossed violently from my vehicle while the other riders whip by (they're probably smiling under their helmets, the bastards)."
I'm not quite the ATV game virgin; I've played one of the ATV series of games on the PS2, and though it didn't rock my world, I quite enjoyed what little time I spent with it. But I'm close to being an ATV game virgin, having only made past third base on one occasion, so I had no idea until very recently that this series has been doing its best impression of NHL '(pick a year), from EA Sports. This bizarre Off Road proliferation phenomenon really had the wheels turning for me: Are people really this turned on by racing ATVs?
Apparently so. At first blush, I thought Blazin' Trails would turn out to be the light, enjoyable distraction the only other ATV game I had played to date turned out to be (was that Off Road Fury 1? Maybe it was 2...) -- only in the palm of my hand. I wasn't completely wrong. Blazin' Trails is a light distraction, but it does its very best not to be enjoyable.
Blazin' Trails -- like any game in the ATV series, I would imagine -- earns points for its pick-up-and-play quality. What this really means is that you'll have little trouble picking a vehicle (maybe you'll select by colour) and a rider and a course and getting busy with nary a glace at the instruction book. Of course, there’s much more depth than meets the eye. On offer is the near-infinite customization which you might expect: fancy a tire upgrade? How about a gear ratio adjustment? You get the idea. All this fiddling would have a useful effect on play, if the game were only more playable in the first place.
Sadly, the principle enjoyment to be derived from the disc actually comes from the training mode. It has you tackling various skills, from basic slaloming and drifting, to taking on an "enduro race," to hitting the ramps to pull off aerial stunts like HEEL CLICKERS and CAT-NACS. As you place on the podium in one challenge, you unlock the next, and so on.
Naturally, you are timed for each challenge, and once (if?) you succeed in completion, your time will determine which colour medal you win. If you’re still working on a challenge well past the bronze medal cut-off time, a pleasant female voice will tell you, “you failed”. And trust me, it gets less and less pleasant each time you hear it. It's amazing how quickly she goes from voice actor hottie, to c-u-next-tuesday.
Anyhow, you'll find out immediately just how touchy the controls are, but once you adjust, the sense of accomplishment training provides still makes it good fun. ATV’s problem occurs in the actual racing. The computer racers are fast and rarely make mistakes (naturally). They make use of the game’s high premium on pre-loading jumps, pumping their legs to maximize lift on even the smallest jumps.
This means you have to do the same thing in order to keep pace. When you manage to get your own vehicle airborne, it's an exhilarating feeling -- especially when you’re able to soar above other riders. But the touchy steering (whether on the ground or in the air) will have you worrying too much about sticking your landing for the flights to be as enjoyable as they should be.
Even on normal difficulty, on countless occasions I've had a race all but wrapped up, taking care to play it safe as the game allows in the home stretch, only to land a jump on a barricade and get tossed violently from my vehicle while the other riders whip by (they're probably smiling under their helmets, the bastards). Adding insult to injury, the game simply loves to restart your crashed ATV aiming directly at that same barricade you crashed into, whether or not that’s the right direction to be going in, and the cherry on top is that you'll already be in motion. This means you have to take care to immediately brake and steer out of harm's way, which incidentally, is where you should really have been placed.
This leads to back-to-back smash ups in many instances, and back-to-back-to-back smash ups in others -- in a game which is already too difficult. Of course, aside from the joy of training, you may also experience good times racing against other human riders in the ad hoc multiplayer modes. Because, chances are excellent that other human riders will also suck. Sadly, chances are equally excellent that other humans will not be playing this game. But if I may continue to scratch for positives, I was suitably impressed by the rider graphics (not the bland backgrounds), as of the riders limbering up before the race; and the eclectic soundtrack bears mentioning, featuring artists as diverse as Good Charlotte and Bootsy Collins. It’s excellent quality -- perhaps it’s wasted here.
Blazin' Trails is fun in training and against other players as equally inept (and indiscriminate) as you are, and it boasts a high quality soundtrack and big air. But touchy controls, rock hard AI, horribly damaging restarts, and some surprisingly excessive load times, knock this offering down several pegs. Although (scratch, scratch), bargain basement racer that it is, you could do worse if you’re searching for close-to-free starter PSP action to whet your appetite for better games ahead -- and you'll have no trouble finding those.
Staff review by Marc Golding (January 15, 2008)
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